Washington, DC – Members of Congress have been using federal air marshals like a “VIP concierge” service for personal security in recent months and a formal ethics complaint has been filed against U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D-California) for her part in it.
The Air Marshal National Council said the problem began after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot when scared lawmakers began requesting air marshal escorts to and from their home districts and even on vacation, FOX News reported.
The Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) falls under the authority of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and is responsible for the safety of the flying public, not lawmakers.
U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S. Secret Service are tasked with providing personal protection to legislators and officials who require it, FOX News reported.
Former President George W. Bush increased the air marshal force from 33 marshals to 4,000 after 9/11 so it could cover all “high risk” commercial flights.
But so many federal lawmakers have requested air marshals to protect them on flights and in airports in recent months that there haven’t been enough to put on all the commercial flights that should have them, FOX News reported.
“Air marshals can only be assigned to high-risk flights,” Air Marshal National Council Executive Director Sonya Hightower LoBasco said.
“That means flights that have been deemed through our vetted process that have a security risk,” LoBasco explained. “When these processes are violated and they’re taken advantage of and they are just tossed to the side now as if they don’t matter, we’re really looking into creating a major problem for ourselves in the aviation domain.”
Some of members of Congress already have security details that travel with them but asked for air marshals, too, FOX News reported.
And some lawmakers have requested air marshals to provide their security and then missed their scheduled flights.
LoBasco said the air marshals work as two-person teams and were assigned to cover the members of Congress after the lawmaker made the request to Capitol Police, who forwarded it to TSA, who told the air marshals to schedule it, FOX News reported.
She said every flight that it was requested for went out with two air marshals aboard regardless of whether the VIP showed up for the flight.
FOX News was told that legislators from both sides of the political aisle had been using and abusing the services of the air marshals for both official business and personal travel.
LoBasco filed a formal congressional ethics complaint against Waters after she requested two air marshals to fly with her to attend the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on April 17.
"She gets extra security so that she can go and make these remarks & raise tensions even further. She didn’t need to pour gas on this fire & then make us pay for it with these air marshals too.”@DLoesch on Rep. Maxine Waters being accused of abusing air marshal flight privileges. pic.twitter.com/iH5W7P8vNN
— Jeanine Pirro (@JudgeJeanine) May 16, 2021
She said Waters was already accompanied by two armed U.S. Capitol Police officers and two U.S. Secret Service agents when she made the request, FOX News reported.
Waters also allegedly requested two more air marshals to meet her when the plane landed in Minneapolis and escort her through the airport.
Capitol Police and Secret Service denied either agency provided in-flight protection for Waters on that occasion, FOX News reported.
Waters took to social media to deny the reports.
The latest Fox "News" campaign against me falsely claiming that I requested police, secret service, & air marshals on an April 17 flight is an absolute lie. I have never requested law enforcement protection on my flights. Deceitful, lying Fox "News" must be stopped.
— Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters) May 15, 2021
But LoBasco refused to back down or walk back her allegations against the congresswoman, FOX News reported.
“Congresswoman Maxine Waters utilized numerous government resources inappropriately,” the ethics complaint read. “Federal Air Marshals were removed from a ‘High Risk’ flight to cover Ms. Waters’s flight to Minnesota. The High Risk flight took off with no armed law enforcement on board leaving a gap in National Security.”
TSA issued a statement that explained what had been going on, FOX News reported.
“Following the events of January 6th at the U.S. Capitol, the Transportation Security Administration enhanced security and law enforcement presence throughout the transportation system to include airports and aboard aircraft to protect the traveling public, including Members of Congress,” the statement read.
But Air Marshal National Council President David Londo pointed out in a complaint to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General on April 20 that air marshals were supposed to protect the public, not lawmakers, FOX News reported.
“Placing FAMs on aircraft simply because a member of Congress requests it is an egregious misuse of government resources,” Londo wrote. “The FAMs are now taking agents off of regularly scheduled ‘high risk’ flights to put them on flights with members of Congress, that in most cases have their own armed federal security details onboard already.”
“It has become akin to a type of extremely expensive concierge service for Congressional members,” he added.